Thousands of faithful continue to gather in northwest suburban Des Plaines today. They’re coming for an annual religious festival called the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. It lasts more than 30 hours, and involves more roses than you can imagine.
Ok, so, you’re probably wondering why Des Plaines? About 20 years ago, a resident bought a statue of the lady of Guadalupe and couldn’t find for a home for it until Maryville Academy opened its doors. Ever since, in ever growing numbers, people have been making pilgrimages here.
It all starts in late afternoon. Several people stand in a circle saying the rosary before the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. They carry a giant rosary made of satin.
Behind them, people stream in from all over the country, carrying roses in pinks and oranges and reds. They’re all here to celebrate the Feast. It includes 10 masses, confessions around the clock and non-stop music.
Father Miguel Martinez is rector here, and he figures he won’t sleep until Saturday.
MARTINEZ: It’s 2 or 3 in the morning, and I’m not sleepy. There’s a lot of energy that comes out of the heart, out of the joy that we have, to have our Lady of Guadalupe here. It’s a very joyful, joyful celebration.
The feast celebrates the anniversary of apparitions of the Virgin Mary in Mexico nearly 500 years ago. Believers say she made roses grow out of season, and her image appeared - and remained — on a cloak.
Father Martinez says a copy of that image is on the Des Plaines shrine.
MARTINEZ: People promise our Lady of Guadalupe to walk for miles, to come to the shrine on their knees, they promise their hair or some other belongings, asking for a favor from our lady.
WOMAN: One of them is kind of hard. To stop drinking. And another one, to pray me and my boyfriend have a child. It’s kind of hard right now, I’m trying really hard for almost 7 years.
MAN: Actually, around 5 years ago, I came here, I was a little distraught, I didn’t know what to do with my life. I was actually abusing drugs and alcohol, and I came here to ask for help and guidance. Like God does, she sent people, put people in front of me, and they led me in the right direction.
WOMAN: I was diagnosed a couple of years ago with lupus, so I came as a blessing to her. I’m cured. So I have a high belief in her.
Wheeling resident Eric Melchor came with his mother, Maria.
MELCHOR: Being in a different country, everyone tries to fit in, but you kind of want to keep your roots. This is a way we can keep our roots, and keep living the traditions our parents did, and our grandparents.
Over in the gym, a traditional dance troop performs before one of the masses. Bertha Tristan helps with last-minute preparations.This year, she’s praying for an end to the war, a stronger economy and peace.
TRISTAN: Many times I have a little bit of problems, or a little bit of problems, and I pray to her. She’s the mother of Jesus. She can be my lawyer. I know I can talk to God, but I think he listen more to her than me.
After the mass, people gather outside.
A flaming bundle zooms down a wire from a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe to the altar, where it burns into the night. People from various churches llight torches from that flame. They’ll spend the night running the torches back to churches all over the area.
At midnight, the faithful gathered around a mariachi band. They sang serenades to the lady, called mananitas. And they’ll keep coming to give thanks to the Lady of Guadalupe until midnight tonight.
I’m Lynette Kalsnes, Chicago Public Radio.